January 2017: The Zen Way of Pruning

As a landscape laborer in high school, I couldn’t believe the amount my boss told me to prune back bushes.

“They’ll grow back better this way,” he said. Sure enough, those bushes that looked so sparse and empty burst back into life full of new blooms.

I went on in life and discovered the same lesson in Zen: Zen practice also tells us we grow healthier when we prune ourselves back.

The critical part of this practice–and the hard part – is coming to a full stop. The Zen way of pruning is to stop all of our activities; to sit down and really get quiet.

This kind of pruning makes manifest a hidden aspect of ourselves and of the world. It allows for a new self; one that is unburdened and clear eyed, one that can act and help in the world more creatively.

Real renewal doesn’t come cheap.  We have our habits, our ways of thinking, and these can be tough to drop, even temporarily. But the deeper we can go down to a full stop, the fresher we can come back up.

These are uncertain times in our society, and I believe it is important for all of us to exercise our responsibilities as citizens of this nation and of this planet. This means active involvement in our family, our community, our social groups, and our political institutions.

But the essence of Zen is beyond all that. Whatever you do for our society, please don’t miss that essence- stopping. We have to take care not to become busy and hardworking in the world, and lazy in the world of the spirit.

Zen can help us, and it can help our society.  It helps best when we have the courage to let go of everything;  to temporarily but profoundly let go even of family; even of loves and hates; even of preferences of all types; even the idea that what we’re doing is good, or that it might make society better. The Zen path asks of us nothing less than to pruneourselves all the way back to zero.

In Zen we get to practice renewing ourselves over and over. Here’s hoping for some fresh green shoots this year.